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« McCain and Clinton win in Florida. What does it mean to Iraq? | Main | Melitus Mugabe Were tried to make peace in Kenya »

January 30, 2008

Comments

Tomh F

"The words ... turned out to be well founded"

You are in error. At no point did the Iraqi government seek uranium from Africa. That is the conclusion of the ISG.

The British Butler Commission, on the other hand, was appointed by Tony Blair! It reported to Tony Blair! It only had the support of one political party -- Tony Blair's!

Simply not serious.

Frank Warner

Give me a cite from the ISG that says Saddam did not seek uranium.

Tomh F

I refer you to the Iraqi Survey Group report itself. ISG found no evidence to show that Iraq sought uranium from abroad. Precisely the opposite is true. Intelligence documents recovered from inside Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein reveal that he was not interested in re-starting Iraq's defunct nuclear programme. His most immediate concern was compliance and ending sanctions (which no policymaker would allow). One such document even shows that Iraq declined an offer, from a rogue businessman, for the supply of natural uranium. This makes sense because 1) Iraq had no nuclear facilities whatsoever, and 2) Iraq already had hundreds of tonnes of uranium sitting in storage at home. The IAEA was well aware of these facts prior to the 2003 invasion.

http://tinyurl.com/2sptz5

Frank Warner

Tom, the Iraq Study Group said it “has not found evidence to show that Iraq sought uranium from abroad after 1991.” But the only person it seems to have asked much about Iraq’s uranium shopping was Ja’far Diya’ Ja’far, who was head of Iraq’s nuclear weapons program before 1991.

It looks as if Ja’far just told the Iraq Study Group what he had heard from others: that Iraq’s ambassador to the Vatican went to Niger (date not mentioned, but probably 1998 or 1999) to invite the president of Niger to Iraq, and that the Nigerien minister visited Baghdad in 2001 looking for oil supplies (in exchange for?).

Now, I know it wasn’t the Iraq Study Group’s job to get to the bottom of Iraq’s interest in uranium, so I guess we couldn’t expect the Iraq Study Group to dig too deeply on this. But why couldn’t it have questioned Ibrahim Mayaki, the former Nigerien prime minister who suggested to Joseph Wilson in 2002 that an Iraqi trade delegation’s 1999 interest in better economic ties was an sign of Iraq’s interest in buying uranium yellowcake? And why didn’t the Iraq Study Group at least mention the Butler Report, which in 2004 found that President Bush’s 16 words – that “Saddam … sought … uranium in Africa” -- were “well founded”?

Keep in mind that one reason someone like Mayaki might have suspected the Iraqis were shopping for Nigerien yellowcake in 1999 is that, as the Iraq Study Group notes, Iraq had bought yellowcake from Niger in 1981 and hid that purchase from the IAEA for more than a decade.

Tom, you say you don’t trust the Butler Report because it was appointed by the Labour government, but what sense does that make? The Butler Report detailed all sorts of intelligence failings, so when it notes one area where British Intelligence got something right, why the problem? The Labour Party wasn’t totally in favor of removing Saddam from power anyway. Many Labour members clearly hoped Saddam’s fascist repression would continue for decades.

But if you want to cite part of the Iraq Study Group’s superficial review of the African uranium question, also remember the Senate Intelligence Committee Report, the Butler Report and Joseph Wilson’s own admission that he never debunked anything Bush ever said on uranium. And don’t forget you’re betting everything on a few words from a group appointed by a Republican president and a Republican Congress.

The Iraq Study Group also said Iraq’s ability to reconstitute a nuclear weapons program progressively decayed after 1991, but even after 1991, “Saddam did express his intent to retain the intellectual capital developed during the Iraqi Nuclear Program. Senior Iraqis — several of them from the Regime’s inner circle — told ISG they assumed Saddam would restart a nuclear program once UN sanctions ended.”

Saddam was "not interested in re-starting Iraq's defunct nuclear programme"?

The Iraq Study Group said, “With the influx of funds from the Oil For Food (OFF) Program and later the suspension of cooperation with UNSCOM, Saddam’s attention began to return to the former employees of the Iraqi Nuclear Program. In the late 1990s, raises in salaries were given to the employees of both the MIC [Military Industrialization Commission] and the IAEC [Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission]. New programs were initiated, which would employ the talent of former Iraqi Nuclear Program employees, and both the MIC and IAEC expanded. Joint programs with universities were started not only to support a deteriorating university system but also to encourage involvement in MIC and IAEC efforts, offering the opportunity to pass knowledge on to new generations of scientists.”

Why would it be so surprising that Saddam simultaneously would begin seeking yellowcake and nurturing contacts with his former yellowcake suppliers?

Tom F

...the Iraq Study Group (sic) said it “has not found evidence to show that Iraq sought uranium from abroad after 1991.” But the only person it seems to have asked much about Iraq’s uranium shopping was Ja’far Diya’ Ja’far

The Iraq Survey Group interrogated hundreds of engineers, scientists, former regime members etc. Many of these people were highly cooperative. ISG also acquired and examined sensitive Iraqi intelligence documents. They found no evidence for the claim, and even found evidence to doubt it.

[Ja’far Diya’ Ja’far] was head of Iraq’s nuclear weapons program before 1991

Ja’far remained active in diplomatic circles and other engineering fields.

...Iraq’s ambassador to the Vatican went to Niger ... to invite the president of Niger to Iraq, and that the Nigerien minister visited Baghdad in 2001 looking for oil supplies (in exchange for?).

To quote Cambridge University academic Glen Rangwala, Iraq would...

"send delegations all over the world, including Africa, to sign free trade agreements. The Iraqis weren't really interested in trade, but in getting sanctions lifted. They were holding out the promise of cheap oil to buy the votes of poor countries which might end up on the Security Council. Their main strategy was to isolate the US and Britain on the sanctions issue."

I know it wasn’t the Iraq Study Group’s job to get to the bottom of Iraq’s interest in uranium, so I guess we couldn’t expect the Iraq Study Group to dig too deeply on this.

You mean Iraq's alleged interest in uranium. ISG looked into the matter more thoroughly than anyone before.

And why didn’t the Iraq Study Group at least mention the Butler Report, which in 2004 found that President Bush’s 16 words – that “Saddam … sought … uranium in Africa” -- were “well founded”?

Perhaps because it was no longer deemed a credible judgement given the exclusive access to information they enjoyed compared to Lord Butler and his very small team of impartial inquisitors?

This is highly plausible. Just today, for example, the New Statesman is reporting that CIA had access to the same intelligence material MI6 say their claim was founded upon, and it transpires that the United Sates doubted that evidence too. If this report is correct, then the British government have absolutely nothing left. Everything they had has been officially debunked. [1]

Keep in mind that one reason someone like Mayaki might have suspected the Iraqis were shopping for Nigerien yellowcake in 1999 is that, as the Iraq Study Group notes, Iraq had bought yellowcake from Niger in 1981 and hid that purchase from the IAEA for more than a decade.

But you cannot possibly conceal whopping great nuclear facilities. Yes, Iraq had uranium of their own, with no way of processing it. As nuclear expert Norman Dombey correctly observes...

"Iraq already had far more uranium than it needed for any conceivable nuclear weapons programme. ... Nuclear weapons are difficult and expensive to build not because uranium is scarce, but because it is difficult and expensive to enrich U235 from 0.7 per cent to the 90 per cent needed for a bomb. Enrichment plants are large, use a lot of electricity and are almost impossible to conceal. Neither British security services nor the CIA seriously thought Iraq had a functioning enrichment plant that would have justified all the noise about nuclear weapons we heard before the war... When I read of the supposed Iraqi purchase of uranium from Niger, I thought it smelt distinctly fishy. ... It was a gigantic red herring."

Tom, you say you don’t trust the Butler Report because it was appointed by the Labour government, but what sense does that make? The Butler Report detailed all sorts of intelligence failings, so when it notes one area where British Intelligence got something right, why the problem?

The problem is, they didn't get it right, they got it wrong. They also pulled their punches when it came to making select criticisms. I honestly believe the British government would have fallen if they had chosen to report honestly the information they had before them. How many times have we seen exactly this type of stacked investigation - from both aisles of the political spectrum?

Politicians know whom to appoint when they themselves are under investigation. The commission should have operated independently and openly. Anything less is contempt.

Saddam was "not interested in re-starting Iraq's defunct nuclear programme"?

At the time he was accused of seeking uranium, yes. Saddam decided instead to work toward ending sanctions, meaning compliance.

Why would it be so surprising that Saddam simultaneously would begin seeking yellowcake and nurturing contacts with his former yellowcake suppliers?

It wouldn't be surprising. The point is, nobody had any solid evidence of this, so they just exaggerated and made their own up instead.

Saddam Hussein deserved to be overthrown. There were ways of possibly achieving that goal without resort to collective punishment, without hurting and killing hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi men, women and children. This episode has lasted several years. The Clinton administration was bending intelligence in the late 1990s, suggesting Saddam and Bin Laden were working together. Many people forget about that. It's not just a Bush/Blair thing. It's been going on for years.

[1] http://www.newstatesman.com/200801310011


Frank Warner

Yeah, I recall Cindy Sheehan saying that Clinton killed more Iraqis than the Bush-led invasion. Of course, she was referring to the sanctions that Saddam brought on Iraq, and Saddam's diversion of Oil for Food money for his palaces and payoffs.

A few groups estimated that, during the period of sanctions, 5,000 to 10,000 Iraqis were dying of sickness and starvation each month.

That had to end. The overthrow and democratization should have happened at least 12 years earlier.

Tom F

Did anyone expect better from Saddam? No. Did anyone expect better from the United States? Yes.

Robert Gates, then Deputy National Security Adviser, summarised the policy in 1991:

"Saddam is discredited and cannot be redeemed. His leadership will never be accepted by the world community and, therefore, Iraqis will pay the price while he remains in power. All possible sanctions will be maintained until he is gone. Any easing of sanctions will be considered only when there is a new government."

He wasn't lying.

If sanctions were aimed directly at the government, not effecting civil life, then there'd have been no outcry. But this was collective punishment. Sanctions made it harder for Iraqis to overthrow Saddam. The last thing you would impose on Iraq if you wanted strong and viable opposition movements to quietly form.

I formed the position several years ago, before the 2003 invasion, that we were in no way qualified to 'bring' democracy to Iraq. I marched in protest, and would do so again.

Beside the point, of course.

Frank Warner

Against a dictatorship, there is no way to impose sanctions that affect the dictator only. You must remove the dictator.

jj mollo

I always wondered why Bill Clinton didn't get rid of Saddam. After all, he was on good terms with Tony Blair and all the leaders of Europe. He could have just put in the word, you know, given a little nudge here and there, and sure enough, Saddam would be on his way, to Egypt maybe, or Switzerland. No need for bloodshed at all.

I can tell you that Bill Clinton has a pretty damn high IQ. He's been educated in the best places and he has the best advisors, so if he didn't remove Saddam, he must have had a pretty good reason.

Frank Warner

We assume smooth talkers have high IQs, but there are little data on whether smooth talkers also are courageous leaders.

For all his smooth talking, Clinton never had to take tests at Oxford, took few bold steps after the 1993 tax increase (and even told Texas businessmen his tax increase was too high), is remembered for few stirring statements (except "is is" and "that woman"), and might have had a complete disaster of a presidency had a few entrepreneurs not brought the Internet to full bloom in 1994 and 1995.

I liked his early direction, coming out of the Democratic Leadership Council. But he too quickly downplayed most of the thoughtful, real-world ideas that came out of that group.

And like Bush the First before him, Clinton calculated we could lose 30,000 troops in house-to-house urban fighting to remove Saddam.

Keep in mind, removing Saddam alone would never be enough. He had those sadistic sons, but more importantly, he had established a nearly impenetrable totalitarian system that could have bred new despots into perpetuity.

jj mollo

Sorry. I was being snarky. Too many people think you can accomplish change without force and without sacrifice. One death is the loss of a universe, but we live on a planet of death and suffering, and we must take forceful steps to change what we can. What those steps are is not always clear, so we have to trust our leaders if at all possible. I did not think badly of Clinton, nor do I think badly of Bush. Being POTUS is a heavy load.

Sniping is easy, so I try to avoid it. Next time I'll use the [sarcasm][/sarcasm] markers.

jj mollo

Although WJC really is pretty smart. He's a natural policy wonk and very does the NY Times crossword puzzle.

Frank Warner

Sorry I missed the snarkiness!

And is there a word missing in your last comment here?

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